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Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

*Abarat* by Clive Barker - tween/young adult book review


by Clive Barker
Grades 10-12 496 pages HarperCollins August 2004 Paperback    

Candy Quackenbush, like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, lives in a boring place. It's not Kansas this time but Minnesota, in a town called Chickentown, a place of tedium and boredom for the imaginative young Candy.

She hates her teacher as well - Miss Schwartzis forever wrongly scolding Candy for things she didn't do. The entire class is given a paper to write on something interesting about Chickentown. An almost impossible task, thinks Candy.

But a talk with her mom directs her to the town's hotel, the Comfort Tree Hotel and to the Assistant Manager there who in turn leads Candy to Room 19, the room in which "Henry Murket had breathed his last". Learning the story of the man's death, Candy writes a paper and hands it in, positive she'll get an "A". Instead her teacher calls the paper trash and gives her an "F".

An argument between teacher and student ensues. Candy is sent to the principal's office. She decides not to go and instead flees the school and then the town, walking to the town's edge to a part of the swaying grasslands at the town's edge - grasslands that once were part of a "glittering sea," unbeknownst to Candy.

And there her amazing adventures begin. In the tall grass, she meets John Mischief and his seven brothers, also all named John but with different last names. The brothers are inseparable quite literally; they exist only as heads, and their heads are attached to the antlers on John Mischief's head, hanging there like decorations on a Christmas tree, three brothers on one antler, four on the other. John Mischief has fled the Islands of the Abarat, running for fear of his and his brothers' lives. He is being chased by the dangerous Mendelson Shape. And, John Mischief tells Candy, Shape is here now.

Suddenly Candy is also in danger. She ends up with Mischief in the Islands of the Abarat and from there goes to many astounding places, meets astounding people (and creatures) and has many adventures. Her life is threatened as well, for although she doesn't know it, she has been to Abarat before and now carries with her the means to save the land from the Prince of Midnight, Christopher Carrion, a character which must have risen out of one of Barker's own nightmares. Carrion wants Candy captured and brought to him.

This is a stunningly imaginative work, albeit an imagination perhaps dipped a bit in nightmare-juice drippings from too many bad dreams. The book is said to be for children (ages 10 and up), but it might be a little dark for the young side of that range - perhaps 12 and up. Grownups who enjoy fantasy tales may enjoy this book as much or even more than children.

Barker's own colorful illustrations serve the text well. This is the first book of a series, and I took away a half-star only because there are some unresolved "threads" in this book. Be assured it can be read and enjoyed on its own. You need not buy the next in the series to enjoy this book, but why not do so? I've read Book Two (Abarat: Days of Magic, Nights of War), and it is as good as the first.

Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

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